FutureStructure

Tennessee: A Leader in Self-Driving Vehicle Development?

After meeting with officials from Volkswagon, Sen. Mark Green has introduced a piece of legislation to spur the market for autonomous vehicles in the state.

by Mike Pare, Chattanooga Times/Free Press, Tenn. / February 1, 2016

(TNS) -- Volkswagen's Chattanooga operations could help the state become a leader in the development and manufacture of self-driving cars, says a state senator who has introduced a new bill to spur the industry in Tennessee.

State Sen. Mark Green, R-Clarksville, said Friday he met with VW officials during a visit to the Chattanooga plant and the automaker already is doing "some phenomenally innovative stuff."

VW officials' concern is that any legislation not impede the development of self-driving cars, he said.

"I assured them today that when we amend this legislation, we'll have them in the driver's seat," Green said. "We want this to be a job creator."

He said VW plans to bring a self-driving Audi to the state Capitol next month just prior to a Feb. 10 meeting in Nashville that Green has called. The state senator said he's also talking with Google, which is in the forefront in the roll out of automated driving, along with other car companies and state transportation officials.

State Rep. Mike Carter, R-Ooltewah, who was asked to introduce the legislation in the House by Green, said the bill will "start the conversation."

He said he's hopeful Tennessee can be "on the leading edge of this in consultation with Volkswagen, General Motors and Nissan," all of which have assembly plants in the state.

The legislation, Senate Bill 1561, addresses certifying manufacturers to test operator-required autonomous vehicles on the state's roads and in what manner they can be run.

The bill also imposes a use tax on autonomous vehicles. For example, such a vehicle with two axles would be taxed at a rate of 1 cent per mile, the bill says.

Green said he's interested in not only seeing self-driving cars produced in Tennessee but research and development, as well. As part of VW's current plant expansion to produce a new SUV, the company has set up a first-in-the-South engineering and planning center for North America.

Plans eventually are to hire at least 200 engineers and technicians to centralize those tasks for VW.

"We want to get the [automated driving] R&D," Green said. "We want to get the brains in Tennessee. We want to innovate and create jobs."

Mark Cleveland, a Nashville businessman who accompanied Green to Chattanooga, said pilot programs could be set up in the state running shuttle-like transportation options. He said that blind people have noted they could benefit from the systems.

"Think about the mobility for the elderly," Cleveland said.

Audi, also owned by VW, became one of the first car companies to obtain a new type of permit issued by California for the testing of self-driving cars. Audi has demonstrated its so-called piloted driving technology on an expressway in Tampa, Fla.

And, last year, Audi sent a self-driving concept car from Silicon Valley in California to Las Vegas, a 550-mile drive.

©2016 the Chattanooga Times/Free Press (Chattanooga, Tenn.) Distributed by Tribune Content Agency, LLC.